Graham Audio Launches the BBC LS5/5 in Montreal

BBC LS5/5? I'd never heard of it until it was announced on my Facebook feed that the LS5/5 was Graham Audio's new flagship speaker—so new, in fact, that there were only two pairs in existence. One of them would be showcased that evening in a Montreal audio shop, Art et Son, for the model's official North American launch.

Equipped with a single listening room, Art et Son is a small boutique situated in Montreal's Mile-End district. When I entered the store's lobby, I immediately recognized Philip O'Hanlon of On A Higher Note, Graham Audio's North American importer, by his trademark bowtie. I asked him if he chose Montreal for the LS5/5's launch for business reasons. "No," he replied, in his Irish brogue. " I just love coming to Montreal."

The human voice was the acid test for BBC designs; above all else, the speakers had to realistically replicate the voices of the famous artists who appeared on BBC broadcasts. Voices belonging to artists such as Louis Armstrong and Aretha Franklin had to sound authentic. Get that right, went the dictum, and the rest would fall into place.

In that respect, of the BBC designs that had been brought to market—including the iconic LS3/5a—the 3-way LS5/5 was considered by the Beeb to be their best. But then something happened: Rock & Roll. The LS5/5 couldn't play the devil's music loud enough, so away it went, and in its place the BBC developed the more powerful LS5/8, its first loudspeaker to use polypropylene cones rather than paper or Bextrene ones.

Graham Audio's LS5/5 ($15,000 USD/pair) plays 9dB louder than the BBC version. My first thought when I saw it was, "It kinda looks like a Harbeth 40.1." My second thought: "What's up with the slot down the middle?" According to the BBC's research, the addition of the slot allowed the speakers to perform as a narrower source, creating a wider horizontal dispersion pattern and resultant sweet spot. Improved vertical dispersion also made the speakers easier to position in a room.

The crowd that had gathered to hear the LS5/5s was small but enthusiastic. Wine flowed freely. Bonhomie reigned. We sat in rapt silence as O'Hanlon and Rob Sutcliffe, Art et Son's owner, took turns addressing us. The speakers were so fresh from the factory, Sutcliffe told us, that they had not yet had a chance to be broken in. Still, connected to a modest system comprising NAD, Exposure, and Gold Note gear, with cabling by UK's Titan Audio, what I heard was pleasingly full-sounding.

The speakers projected a big, finely layered picture, reinforced by good bass weight. Bass response is said to go down to 40Hz. This being a BBC design, it is in that crucial midband, between 400Hz and 2.5kHz, where the LS5/5 performed most of its magic, delivering great tone, warmth, and a level of intimacy that made tracks like Karan Casey's "One I Love" and London Grammar's "If You Wait" heart-aching.

As I said my goodbyes, I asked Sutcliffe what it was about Graham Audio speakers that made him choose to represent the brand. "I just love how they sound," he said. I couldn't think of a better answer.

The LS 5/5 is expected to start shipping in the fourth quarter of this year.

Ortofan's picture

... Graham LS5/5, Spendor Classic 100 or Harbeth Monitor 40?

BBC R&D report on the design of the LS5/5:

Note that the LS5/5 is used with a pre-amplifier that provides +4dB of equalization at 40Hz.
Will Graham be furnishing such an external equalizer with the speakers (as KEF once did with the Kube units) or will the internal crossover provide the necessary low frequency boost?

PAR's picture

"Note that the LS5/5 is used with a pre-amplifier that provides +4dB of equalization at 40Hz."

Not only that but the original BBC LS5/5 came equipped with a modified Quad 50D amplifier. It was housed in the speaker's stand.

The speaker was replaced by the LS5/8 for high level monitoring but for really high levels e.g. recording rock groups at the BBC Maida Vale studios, various commercial designs were adopted I believe including ATCs.

JRT's picture

Looking at Vintage King's prices, the Kii 3 is $7495 each (~$15k/pair), and the Dutch & Dutch 8C is $6250 each ($12.5k/pair). Those are market retail prices, not MSRP. ...did not investigate MSRP. But also, these are active monitors, whereas the BBC LS5/5 is passive and needs an amplifier, adding cost.

Bogolu Haranath's picture

Look at all the speakers listed in the Stereophile recommended component list costing around $15k .... including, Class-A Revel Ultima Studio2 ....... Can these BBC LS5/5 outperform the $10k Revel Performa F228Be? :-) .......

RoryB's picture

Clearly there is no need in the market for more than one speaker at any one price point. If any listener exhibits a preference for one speaker over another speaker for an effect that it has on the sound which is not strictly accurate according to objective measures, then that listener's taste is invalid and their preference is simply wrong. A listener need not be satisfied with the sound of their system, merely reassured by the data that the sound they are hearing is the correct one. It is entirely useless to argue any differently.

JRT's picture

The bigger point would be that there are a lot of good loudspeakers available in the $15k/pair market segment, and some for less. And there is some significant understanding available in the literature describing the characteristics of "goodness", engineering principles and science underlying the principles.

Listeners do have preferences. Harman and others have studied and published reports on those preferences. Others have studied underlying physical psychology of hearing perception, psychoacoustics, much of it applicable to loudspeaker design and target interaction with room acoustics. While some may have unusual preferences, many others share common preferences. Understanding helps to provide basis to develop a set of design requirements and the characteristics of a design target. That understanding has much evolved since the the BBC LS5/5 was designed.

Built on that understanding, a combination of model based engineering, objective measurement and subjective evaluation are used in iterative process to design, refine and develop a loudspeaker design. The modeling tools and measurement methodology have much evolved since the BBC LS5/5 was designed.

RoryB's picture

Listen, I don't appreciate you bringing in details of my employment history that are not relevant to the discussion. Some would call that a form of "doxxing" (although I hate that term; "unmasking" is a better one), with intent to either manipulate or intimidate, and that sort of thing may be against Stereophile's rules for commenting. Anyone can find that stuff on LinkedIn, but it is the underlying attitude and intention that I take umbrage to.

My point still stands; from a business perspective, the best speaker in the world is the one that sells, and not the one that doesn't sell. Harman, in its judgment, funds researchers to produce research with the goal of selling as many speakers to as many listeners as possible by attempting to appeal to the broadest category of listeners; without being able to tie the research directly to increased sales, it's just a waste of money even if it does contributed to increased understanding of a customer group. Luckily for those researchers, the link between designing to suit the preferences of the widest range of potential customers and increased sales volume to those same customers is fairly evident. But however widespread those preferences are, they are not universal, so there still remains a customer that is not captured by that approach.

The right of a speaker to exist on the market is entirely based on whether there is a customer for that speaker, whether it is maximally uncolored or produces some coloration that is desirable to a listener with certain tastes. Because this is a brand new speaker, you don't yet have data that shows this speaker necessarily underperforms the Revel, so you have to base that a-priori conclusion on your own intuition and biases (what you think you know, before you actually know it). And even if it does underperform a Revel product or other Harman product in certain areas, it may provide a combination of aesthetic design, sonic design, period-correct design choices, or branding (BBC) that appeals to a certain listener with their own intuition and set of biases/"values", and if that drives a buying decision, then that is worth more to a manufacturer than the entire body of research that didn't contribute to that buying decision.

JRT's picture

It was just a guess at who might be posting, was intended to be complementary, was not intended to be offensive, and was most certainly not intended to do any harm.

Note that I did not mention your name beyond what you already show in the moniker associated with your post. The only people who would recognize the history, which I thought was complementary in showing your experience in the subject matter, would be people who already know you well enough to likewise recognize that. Nothing negative was said about you.

Regardless my earlier intention, I acknowledge your desire for anonymity, have acquiesced to your protest and have removed that last paragraph that included very small reference to your experience in the last seven years.

Bogolu Haranath's picture

Mr.RoryB, I'am just a messenger ........ According to Stereophile rules, people posting comments on Stereophile are supposed to mention their current audio industry affiliation, if there is any :-) .......

RoryB's picture

It depends on how broadly you define the "industry" - I don't currently work in "high end" audio as this site defines it, but I did previously for a very short while. That rule is there to prevent someone who owns or works for a company from coming into the comments and slugging it out on his own behalf, slandering his competition, or self-promoting.

Bogolu Haranath's picture

Thank you for clearing any confusion, here :-) ........

JHL's picture

What would the Stereophile public comments section be if not fertile ground for bench-racing. Apparently there's no greater expertise than that about stuff one hasn't used, probably doesn't thoroughly understand, but in the interest of Objectivism, preliminarily assesses with an enthusiastic bias anyway...

tonykaz's picture

I've learned from Retailing Audio that Customers will own Small Loudspeakers and/or Large Loudspeakers like the Magnepans. Just two choices here, large and small.

The LS3/5a is the Spiritual Leader of all Small Loudspeaker Buyers and/or Manufacturers. We all want the Sound Quality of the little BBC Monitor + a little more of everything. ( ProAc Tablette delivered a little more of everything )

Aspiring to Large Loudspeakers opens up a range of additional purchases which launches us on our exciting Journey of Reading Stereophile Mag. and buying what ever intrigues Herb R and inspires vivid descriptions.

Most of the World's population could live a great life with nothing better than the LS3/5a.

It's we Imitaters of Sisyphus that are condemned to never being satisfied.

I'll predict that this Retailer will dazzle his Canadian Clientele with those High Quality Loudspeakers made in UK ( not dam Chinesium based shit having no dam re-sale investment Value )

Tony in Venice

Ortofan's picture

... live happily ever after with nothing better than the LS3/5a, they seem to be content with nothing better than either a Bose wave system or an iPhone and earbuds.

The real issue is what are the chances that most of the world's population will ever get to hear the LS3/5a? Decades ago, AR used to have a listening room in Grand Central Terminal in NYC.

Now that you're in FL, why not try to assemble a consortium of manufacturers to set up an exhibit of audio systems at Disney World, so that the rest of the world's population has an opportunity to experience the sound quality of high(er)-end audio. Hire Ken Ishiwata to be the Ambassador at that exhibit, serving as the Emissary of Good Sound.

rschryer's picture

...of hearing "It's a Small World After All" on a constant loop in hi-fi!

Ortofan's picture

... disco version:

Or, maybe you'd prefer this "wunnerful, wunnerful" rendition from the Lawrence Welk show:

rschryer's picture

...using the disco version to extract confessions from the toughest perps. (The downside to this, of course, is the high number of false confessions that will be made as a result.)

I don't hate the Bavarian-ish one. It's not great, but it's got an endearing Sound of Music vibe to it. And it is October...

tonykaz's picture

People with serious money have Home Theaters where "Top Gun" Explosiveness is demonstrated. It's typical of homes where every room has a Flat Screen TV ( only $400 for a 4K capable at Costco ). Sound Bars are common.

These are the folks that can afford to take a family of 5 to Disney where daily costs will reach over $1,000 in Show tickets alone. ( I'd need little yellow memory foam ear plugs to do Disney )

Our little hobby is Old School, populated by Geezers like me that once built 6146 Beam Power Tube Ham Radio Transmitters.

People have gone Visual. ( even Steve G. has ) One image = a thousand words of content.

I enjoy the escape to beautiful sounds with no dam visual content overloading my nervous system but I'm an old burn-out.

It's hopeful to see someone in Canada opening up a Shop and Presenting Loudspeakers like that tiny BBC Monitor. It gives me hope that the World has not gone as Crazy as the world I'm escaping from.

Tony in Venice

rschryer's picture

The world HAS gone crazy, Tony. That's why our hobby is so important. It's a lifeline.

BTW, the LS5/5 is not tiny. It's a good-sized stand-mount capable of pressurizing a good-sized listening room.

tonykaz's picture

Oh, right.

I was somehow thinking you were referring to the LS3/5a.

My mind played a trick on me.

Tony in Venice

rschryer's picture

It plays tricks on you.

tonykaz's picture

Why isit that your Hockey Guy stands as Canada's Sharpest Dresser?

Is there a French Canadian version of Don Cherry ?

Mr. O'Hanlon and that Asian Field Ambassador for ? Accuphase ? are Audio's only standouts.

Tony in Venice

rschryer's picture

The legendary James Bongiorno of Ampzilla fame comes to mind, but he passed away in 2013.

tonykaz's picture

Oh Dear,

Steve G. stopped writing Audio!

He's announced it Today.

It's official.

He's gone Video, a visual Presenter, he might/could become a BBC contributor ( imagine that ).

I think that he owns "the Audiophiliac" so now he's a "Content Creator".

Manufacturers will pursue "Air Time" on his channel.

I'll be watching because Steve has such high integrity.

We probably won't be seeing his contributions in Stereophile any longer, too bad, he's always been a "Must Read".

Steve G & Tyll were a interesting pair, I hope Steve gets to locate Tyll for a nice interview on "All things Life".

Congraduations Steve, going to video from writing worked quite well for Ed Sullivan, I hope you're success doubles.

Tony in Venice